If you see a bunch of ants running crazily around on the sidewalk, you don't stand there and wonder what their master plan is. They're ants -- they're probably just blindly scurrying in random directions, waiting to get stepped on. But we should stop every now and then and remember that, from a distance, everything humans do also looks like pointless bullshit.
Sure enough, when scientists look closely at insects, we find that it's startling how organized and strategic they can be in their movements. And when you watch insects go to war, well, it pretty much looks just like us ...
#6. Beetles Make Shields ... and Join Them in Battle Formation
Remember in 300 when all of the Spartans formed up with their shields to create one solid wall of defense? The Romans did it, too, a tight group of soldiers raising their shields on all sides, creating an unstoppable sandal-powered battle tank. Well, here's what it looks like when a bunch of baby tortoise beetles do the exact same thing:
"Hey, we're a bit lost. Which way is Gaul?"
First of all, when we say that these bugs use shields, you might assume that means they're born with a hard shell, but as larvae they actually start out just as squishy and vulnerable as a month-old banana. So, they have to quickly learn to overcome this little inadequacy by building crude shields out of their own dead skin and feces to wield against predators. Let's say that again: The tortoise beetle larva protects itself from danger by swinging around a poop shield.
Known in proper entomologist terms as the "Dude ... gross" strategy.
But even the advanced shit-on-a-stick approach to protection isn't always enough to safeguard the beetles, so some larvae came upon the brilliant idea to band together and join their shields to create an impenetrable barrier of +5 protection and +10 total gross-out. Their version of this phalanx strategy is known as cycloalexy. The guards keep their fecal shields turned outward, while the feeders inside the circle keep their shields held overhead. When something gets too close to their defensive barrier, it usually gets the crap beaten out of it by the bugs' crap cudgels.
The best defense is a good offense, and it doesn't get much more offensive than shit bludgeoning.
#5. Bees Lay Siege to Enemy Hives for Weeks at a Time
If you know anything about the history of warfare, or have just seen the second Lord of the Rings movie, you know what ancient human warfare looked like: An army would decide to invade a city, the opposing army would hunker down behind its walls, and the two sides would settle in to a long and bloody siege. Well, want to know what it looks like when a swarm of bees decides to take over another hive? Pretty much the same thing:
Australian Native Bee Research Centre
"Fuck this. Why don't we make a giant fake horse out of honeycomb?"
Yeah, that massive pile of corpses is the horrific aftermath of a bee siege. Experts have found that prolonged assault on an enemy's fortification is a battle strategy strangely favored by the Trigona genus. Large swarms of them will travel to another colony and buzz around outside until the guards come out of the hive and start grappling with them in midair. Once they've incapacitated each other with their jaws (they don't have stingers), the bees will then tumble to the floor and start wrestling to death, creating a fuzzy, twitching carpet of corpses and hatred that would make Genghis Khan queasy.
John Pritchard, via YouTube
Sure puts the cost of honey into perspective.
And when we compare this to a drawn-out siege, we mean it -- the fighting can last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. The attackers will settle in, occasionally charging the enemy, trying to win a battle of attrition. And just like human wars, they tend to spread -- once word of the fighting gets out (via alarm pheromones bees excrete when they're locked in mortal combat), other hives join in. They've observed bees from up to seven nearby hives all swarming to get in on the action in one massive orgy of death.
#4. Ants Use Mercenaries and Forge Alliances
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As we've learned from various historical documentaries, a specialized full-time fighting force is the key to military dominance, which is bad news for farmer ants. Farmer ants are great at many things, like cutting up leaves, covering them in fungus, and nurturing that fungus into a delicious meal. Sadly, their ability doesn't translate well to not being raided by the bigger genus Megalomyrmex, which likes to wander into the farmer colonies and plop down on their couches, demanding to be fed.
"If you're going out, get some hummus. There's a champ."
And, yes, that does sound like a pretty sucky situation, but you know what sucks slightly more? Having another army of raider ants swarm your nest, kill you, and take away your babies while cackling maniacally the entire time. Because that is a constant threat the farmer ants live under, which is why they're OK with having the Megalomyrmex hanging around and stealing their lunch.
You see, as soon as the aggressive raider ants appear, all ready to scorch the hell out of the farmer colony, the larger moocher ants will suddenly rip off their popped-collar shirts, run outside, and thoroughly hand the attackers their own asses.
If you look close, you can see the little pimp blade it uses to protect its hos.
After that, having their fridge emptied out from time to time in return for not being brutally killed starts to sound like a pretty sweet deal, so the fungus farmers agree to feed the Megalomyrmex warriors if they hang around and act as their Seven Hundred Samurai.
Ants aren't averse to less-direct interspecies alliances too, especially against Formica sanguinea, aka slave-maker ants, which are exactly what they sound like. In one instance, a colony of low-hierarchy ants was being chased by slave-makers until they wandered into the territory of the L. fuliginosus ants. The would-be-slave ants entered the new turf unhindered, but when the slave-makers went in after them, the L. fuliginosus ants descended on the insect plantation owners and fought them off.
Muzeum i Instytut Zoologii Polskiej Akademii Nauk
Presumably to march single file into a half-empty mint julep glass.
While this was happening, a fourth species created a 30-foot-long cordon to protect the weaker ants. They didn't do it to later take them as slaves themselves, but rather because the three species genuinely seemed to be working together against the Formica sanguine menace, united under a shared belief of "Man, fuck those slave-maker assholes."